The Top 5 Missed Movies of 2023

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

As any good critic usually does at this time of year, we start to compare our top lists of movies for the year.  Sometimes we even share lists of our worst movies of the year (we can be mean).  The year 2023 gave us a lot of movies yet the consensus on what was great and what was not seems to be all over the board.  However, after discussions with many of my fellow critics, I have discovered that there are five movies that I believe should have received a little more recognition than they have.  These are the lesser seen gems of the year that for some reason or another did not significantly connect with any audience. In other words, here are five movies that were missed in 2023.

5.  Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
From the studio that brought us Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a delightful coming-of-age tale about a girl from a family of Kraken who are trying to blend in with a human population.  The normal teenage wonderment over a boy mixed with the peer pressure to strike out against familial restrictions dives headfirst into a clash with a world-threatening evil that somehow must be overcome. 

The story, while sounding a little convoluted, actually plays itself out rather well.  Heart, love, and family are the important points of the story.  It doesn’t hurt that they throw in that little princess discovery theme that Disney uses so much.  As always, a lack of communication is the source of all the problems but Ruby’s family rallies with each other and overcomes.

The animation is exceptional.  It is not on the level of Across the Spider-Verse but it is exceptionally well rendered.  The coloring is authentic and bright enough to keep the interest of young viewers yet complex enough to support the story.

The best thing about Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is the attention that it gives to the importance of family.  Unlike other teenage dramas, both parents are smart and involved in the raising of their children.  There is even a second level of the story that stresses the importance of extended family including a hilarious uncle and a magnanimous grandmother voiced exquisitely by Jane Fonda.

The heart-warming, Ruby Gillman claimed only $5.5 million in its opening weekend and limped to a gross box office of $15.7 million.  Very small numbers for a movie with this kind of story.  It can be currently seen on Amazon.

4.  Bottoms
Seldom does a movie come along that is so far-fetched in its conception yet it works in its execution.  This is Bottoms.  Written and directed by Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby), Bottoms stars Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edibiri.  (Sennott and Edibiri previously worked together on a little TV series called Ayo and Rachel are Single.)

The summary description of the film is “two unpopular queer high-school students start a fight club to have sex before graduation.”  Guess what?  That truly is the whole plot!  It is the execution of the story that makes this film special.  The movie is the comedy gold of Old School and Animal House with a little bit of Fight Club sprinkled on top.

Speaking of sprinkled on top, Marshawn Lynch is the perfect cherry on this sundae.  Exhibiting an incredibly unbelievable level of comedic timing, it was revealed that most of the lines Lynch spoke in the film were improvised!  Yes, Marshawn freaking Lynch!  Even though he served as the cherry, The Bear’s Edibiri and Sennott are wonderful as two clumsy and clueless women just trying to score.

For some strange reason, this movie, with its far over-the-top plot, did not click with audiences.  Grossing only $461 thousand in its November opening weekend, Bottoms limped to a worldwide gross of only $12.9 million.  However, I firmly believe that this film has all the making of a cult classic that will outlive its paltry opening, if and when it gets discovered.

3.  The Blackening
Tim Story has a history of directing movies with a certain appeal.  He is the first African-American director to cross $1 billion in box office gross with his movies.  Tracy Oliver, one of the writers of the film also wrote the screenplay for the raunchy yet hilarious Girl’s Trip.  So the pedigree for this movie was decent.

Somehow, the horror-comedy did not seem to catch the attention of the audience that it was designed to appeal to and was nowhere even close to a crossover.  The writing for The Blackening was super intelligent and ultra-positive toward the black community but, it missed out on the love from that community. 

With an incredible ensemble of mostly fresh faces including Grace Byers, Melvin Gregg, Dewayne Perkins, X Mayo, Jermaine Fowler, Sinqua Walls, and Antoinette Robertson, the talented crew was also anchored by the presence of comic veterans Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji, and Diedrich Bader.  This was a film where the sum of all the parts was greater than anyone alone.  Each player interacted and complimented each other perfectly showing a level of black intelligence and success that is rarely seen in the quantity that it is here. 

Of course, the fear was that the movie was “too black” to be consumed by the general public but, that was the reason why Story made so much sense for directing.  His most successful films have been those which portray the same principles (although in smaller doses) that are on display here.  The whole point was to expose the world not only to the “truth” of how real black people would respond to a serial killer but also to attack the over-used trope of the black person dying first in horror movies. 

The problem may have been that black people already knew the truth and white people didn’t care to know the truth.  Either way, too many people missed out on one of the most entertaining horror movies in a very long time.  The Blackening grossed a paltry $18 million worldwide.  It can be rented on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

2. Talk To Me
Actress Sophie Wilde stars in a horror film where crazy Australian teens get their jollies by having parties where they channel ghosts by using the embalmed hand of a dead mystic.  Of course, when you mess with ghosts, sometimes they mess back and the film becomes a deadly pursuit to relieve the ghostly influence from one of their own who is trapped.

The first thing that comes to mind is The Blackening and that a black girl should not be engaged in these types of pursuits.  Well, the film cleverly addresses this plot hole by exposing the audience to the sense-numbing trauma the protagonist has had to survive and the loneliness that she deals with by being racially isolated in her community.

Danny and Michael Philippou have been known for their cinematic wizardry.  They have shown a great eye for cinematography in the past and continue to show it in this movie.  Talk to Me is very scary and dark.  The Racka Racka uses light and shadows well and is very creative in capturing extreme scenes of violence and their effect in a way that seems new and terrifying (that foot-sucking scene, for one).     

The first thing that most people say when this film is mentioned is the fact that Talk to Me grossed $48 million domestically (on a $4.5 million budget) and almost doubled that number worldwide.  The film has been greenlit for a sequel and appears to have been reasonably well accepted.  The fact of the matter is that Australian YouTube sensations, Danny and Michael Philippou, known as The Racka Racka, have a worldwide following that is estimated in the multimillions.  The whole following has been waiting for the first feature film from the brotherly duo and they turned out in droves to see the movie.  There have been few people outside of this following that have seen the film.

The box office gross is a very good number for a horror movie but M3gan scored $30 million in its opening weekend showing that the audience is out there but just didn’t show up for this soon-to-be classic.

1. Origin
Ok.  This is a bit of a McGuffin.

Origin is the masterpiece of a film directed by Ava DuVernay.  It stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal and Niecy Nash-Betts.  Ellis-Taylor plays Isabel Wilkerson, the author of the acclaimed novel Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents.  The movie chronicles Wilkerson’s motivations and investigations into the reasoning behind racism, classism, and other oppressive systems on the face of the Earth.

There are two reasons why this film is so marvelous.  First, it was widely believed that it was impossible to create a screenplay adaptation of a book that was so technically oriented yet DuVernay completed it.  This movie could be some of the best work that DuVernay has done.  Second, Origin also contains powerful acting performances by Ellis-Taylor and Nash-Betts that would normally be Oscar-level in quality.  Unfortunately, both the performances and the screenplay seem to have been overlooked by much of the media and completely by the masses.  The film only grossed $117 (wait for it…) thousand on its opening weekend!

Origin is considered a prestige film and prestige films are not usually made to make money.  Even still, the film’s distributor, NEON Studios, has done a horrible job of promoting and exposing this film to the critical media that can give the recognition that it deserves much less a community of moviegoers.  With a release scheduled for so late in the year that it was not eligible for even nominations by many awards organizations (December 8), NEON has dropped the ball completely and shown a total lack of confidence in the ability of the film to connect with any audience. 

Despite the attempts to spread the word about the movie by the few critics who have seen it, Origin remains the best movie of 2023 that no one has seen.

Origin is currently in theaters.